About gracepaidforward

I am a grateful woman. A mom. A wife. A friend. A sister. A daughter. A Social Worker. Today, I honor all of these titles, but who I AM is a writer. I have always been a seeker with a need to document what I find and to note how it makes me feel. When I first started my blog, I did so because I was driven to move my fingers across the keyboard as exercise for my thoughts. A writing fitness class if you will. Today, I have turned my writing into a career. I am fulfilled within this career and am no longer unsure of claiming the title of "writer." I have found my voice within my pages and am committed, within my blog and outside of it, to connect with other creative "peeps" who are also finding their voice through words, through touch, through song, through art...whatever their creative outlet...I hope to be an inspiration.

CAP and GOWN

My cap and gown hang in the closet waiting for graduation. The Phi Alpha cord and stole are draped over the hanger; their blue and gold fringe hang down to the floor. And every time I open the closet door and see them, I am brought to tears. You would think they should be tears of joy, of elation, of purpose and of hope for what lies ahead. Tears expressing completion and finishing, accomplishment and learning. And yet, they are tears of sorrow and grief. Tears of wishing I did this younger and of hoping it’s not too late to make a difference…

When I started this Master’s program with its 2 year internship attached, my goal was to become a therapist and yes, I have arrived at a place to be able to do this now. A place where I will help others to not have to writhe and wrangle through life the way I have done for decades while trying to press back against past trauma. I just knew that God was asking me to strive to pass along some of the “work” I have done; to make an effort to help to offset some of the pain others may experience along their life journeys. And so, I set out on the path.

But just because it is time to give back on a deeper level, and just because you are ready to heed God’s call to your spirit, that does not mean that your life or those you love within it will be able to see or to understand just what you have embarked on. It does not mean that God will hold back on delivering challenges. It does not mean that you will easily have the vigor to hold on to what you know and already have in your energy fields and yet still make room for all you are asked to take in.

With so many lectures these past years, there were tugs and tears. The classes on grief brought up every loss of my past and the all too close present; the lectures on divorce and its effects on children felt like bullets to my soul because I knew none of this when I made my own choices around that subject. I just didn’t know. Studies on polyvagal theory and neuroplasticity blew my mind, very literally blew my mind, because I could actually feel electrical sparks of understanding coursing through my brain as I learned; I really could feel them.

The power point presentations on rape and its after effects could have been taken from my CV. Those on childhood trauma transported me more than once to the long ago; bruising my little girl spirit again, yet again. Still, I wanted to learn more. I wanted to understand more and understand I did.

And now, at this milestone moment, it has become clear that amid all the learning and the A-OK’s, amid the holding my breath while trying not to be triggered, there is additional learning. I never in my wildest imaginings believed that I would be called to process still more, this when I have spent the last year striving so hard to finish so that life could get more relaxed.

I am reminded of what a professor explained to me when I sought her counsel in the first semester after a death in the family. She told me that she grows more adept in her practice every day, as she learns more about herself through dealing with life’s challenges. She also said that because of past trauma, it was important to be vigilant in maintaining breathing space during my learning; this in order to detach each day because the stuff we were studying could kick things up. And in the middle of the kicking up, new challenges abounded all the while. I have been grateful for this professor’s messages at the moments I had mental space to remember her wisdom, because she helped me keep on. I remember a moment where she looked me in the eyes and I knew that she understood. It felt like a long time since I believed someone could. I remember her telling me about all the mistakes she has made which press her forward in her clinical practice. I recall her reminding me not to look for understanding from others in this work, because I would be left wanting, but merely to do it.

But to not seek understanding from those we love when we feel we need it is not easy for humans, especially because all the while, all along the course of this learning, in my life outside class there was loss, there was death, there was illness and challenge. Yes, there was still suiting up and showing, even when the armor grew heavier atop the burdens of this emotional learning. There seemed not space enough to either ask for understanding or to understand. Yet, all the while, there was needing and wanting and tired. There was ever so much tired. And being in my mid 50’s, there was also the lack of cooperation from my unrecognizable body and ever so much heat constantly coursing through me, though I kept attempting to deny what was going on.

When my clinical year started and I set out for an elder certification, all I could see in the eyes of my clients was my mother; my deceased mom who just like many of them both wanted help and refused it at the same time. Counter transference at its finest. I saw dad too in the spirits of cancer patients writhing in pain and in the eyes of Alzheimer sufferers, former corporate giants who could no longer pick up a fork or brush their teeth. Every paper I wrote for two years was with a personal experience in mind. And I kept wishing, and wishing, that I was younger and had less references to pull from. Oh, how I wished I had not already “been there done that” as I wrote and wrote and wrote.

The lectures on drug addiction were unbearable. They hit too close to home on so very many levels. The professor’s solution of offering sanctuary to addicts incited a wish to stand up and scream at the insanity of what she was teaching. I wondered if the instructor had walked the streets of LA trying to find a stepdaughter the way I had the year before. Had she seen the addict’s and dealer’s tents pitched everywhere, infringing on the city the way I had? Had she ridden in the back of a police car and heard the pain in the officer’s voice as he spoke of the hopelessness of any solution? Did she know that the subject she was touting was shaking my home? My family? My security? Did she know? And then came the exams where I was called to put aside personal knowledge and access the answers I was being taught; answers which I know are not really the answers, not really.

It seems that the years of being immersed in these lessons and these reminders have taken a deeper toll that I ever imagined. The Masters graduate wants to stand proud, but the little girl in me really, ever so badly, needs a hug. OK little girl here goes; here’s a big fat squeeze. Can you feel it? Now then, go ahead and put one foot in front of the other as the woman in you promised she would, because perhaps down the road, there may be someone, somewhere who will be served because of something passed along to them from all this learning. Maybe then it will seem that it has been worth it.

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We Can All Give Back Right Now

Thus far, in my last year of graduate school for clinical social work, I have spent approximately 450 hours working as a clinical intern “out in the field.” My clients have ranged from elders with Alzheimer’s disease to teenage girls operating under thick defensive armor in order just to survive, let alone thrive, in today’s middle schools.

I feel blessed for these opportunities, but it is hard to see what I am looking at.

What I have witnessed are elders who are alone, even sometimes while living with others. I see visually and hearing impaired women and men trying to cope whilst their caregivers lack the ability to “get” what  lack of vision or hearing actually means. I am exposed to medical offices that, even though they have extensive records, don’t seem to know much about the patient who is calling. Some of these same offices have asked me, the advocate, what paperwork the client needs to get specific medical help; this when I have called them to find out; this after I have been kept on hold for over an hour. Yes, this has happened to me more than once, more than thrice.

I have had physician’s staff call patient’s with dementia (rather than the caregiver) to remind them of appointments and then been asked to help with the frightened fallout. I have come into someone’s home while a chicken pot pie was burning because she couldn’t smell the smoke or hear the timer. I have been told by an 89 year old woman that she slept with an aluminum baseball bat under her bed just in case of another break-in, because she couldn’t dial the phone; thankfully, she now has an assisted device to do so. Hopefully she will never have to make the call.

Trying to assist some of these elders with medical logistics is a full-time job. There is lost paperwork, hours on hold, lack of transportation, financial stress, but most of all there is a lack of empathy. And I am left to wonder, how we can as a society begin to repair the many breakdowns in communication between a loved one and their caregiver; between the family and an advocate; between everyone and the doctor’s offices.

As for the young folks, I now understand that they should:  1. Never send a text unless they are OK with it being screen-shotted to half the school. 2. Not expect to sit with selected friends in the cafeteria, because seats are assigned. 3. Not expect to vent or have too much fun in same cafeteria; and definitely not get up from the table without permission. 3. Prepare, and be ready to take a stand, even though they may not yet have all the information needed before taking that stand. 4. Not report someone for bullying, because if they do, they are subject, along with the person bullied, to be written up; this is firsthand information from two high school-ers this happened to.

Now, it is possible that I am getting misinformed, but from what I see, from what I hear, from what I encounter and from the kids (both young and old) who share their burdens, things are not working very well in our society. I asked one struggling young middle school girl why she thought she was so angry. She said, “because I always feel like I have to take a stand. I always feel like I am supposed to stick up for myself and because I can’t trust anyone.”

So, my dreams and goals to help others seem daunting. However, I am hopeful. Hopeful that there are lots of others out there who want to help too and who are willing to learn the best way how. Here’s my thought:  Take a moment today, as soon as you can, to decide to understand a teenager or an elder. Know that they are up against challenges that you will not easily understand, either because you are not yet “there,” or because things were a helluva lot different when you were in middle school. But try to understand. Ask them questions. Make them put their cell phone down or in the case of an elder, teach them how to use one. Look them in the eye. Ask them what is hard for them. Find out what they love.

You can help right here, right now. Will you please work to try to do so? There are so many who need it. Spread the willingness. Spread the hope. Spread the love. By doing so, you can help to change the world.

On Using Your Voice in America

Although finding our voice and learning to use it is a huge part of life’s journey, the way we are teaching our children to do so today, the way we are communicating as a nation is truly heartbreaking. People are screaming so loud that you can’t even hear them anymore. Did you hear me? I said, “PEOPLE ARE SCREAMING SO LOUD THAT YOU CAN’T EVEN HEAR THEM ANYMORE!!” So, is it any wonder there is so much violence and rage with our young people today? Is it any wonder?

Is it any wonder, when we are surrounded by negativity; by so many raging against our very brothers and sisters in public office? The insanity that children are being taught today is not the fault of “them,” it is the fault of each one of us who accepts it. I haven’t even looked at who won or lost the elections yet this morning, because it has begun to feel as if it doesn’t even matter; instead I am digesting how happy I am that at least for now, the ugliness is over. My recycle bin will get a break at the very least.

I am exhausted by what went on prior to election day yesterday here in my neighborhood. Local commercials based only on slander. Mailbox fillers every day filled with hate. Posts and Tweets and Articles and Videos…filled with nothing but hate, hate, hate.

I don’t know how we got here, but it did not start this year or even last. It did not start with one man or with two or with one woman or three. It did not start with the last election or this. It did not start with this Congress. It started as a ripple effect some time ago and it worsens rapidly and exponentially because so many seem to be forgetting that we are today, tomorrow and always, supposed to be human. We are supposed to try and hope and guide and reach high. We are supposed to be brothers and sisters and tap into compassion and grace. To aim high for the stars instead of low at the jugular.

I hope, pray, and yes, do believe…that we can find peace. But first, each one of us has to be accountable to stop the hate right in our own home, in our own mailbox, on our own television and in our own heart. Right here, right now.

I hope you will join me. I hope you will try.

Ethics Class

I just finished a summer ethics class within graduate social work studies. The class was an elective, which surprised me, because for social work clinicians, regularly faced with dilemmas involving client’s differing personal, spiritual, cultural and political belief systems, I’d have thought it would be compulsory.

The reason I chose this, one of four required electives, was for exposure to specific potential challenges and to be taught creative problem solving-strategies and academic approaches to potential bias situations I may encounter down the line.

Throughout class-time, we were asked to look at various scenarios involving what we individually feel is right, is less right and is more right, and to give input on ways to resourcefully work towards resolution. For many hours, we looked at a variety of ethical dilemmas and were guided to, supposedly without allowing judgment, work towards outcomes that could be accepted, if not by all, by most.

And then it came time to work collaboratively on our final “Ethical Dilemma” paper with chosen group members. My group was intentionally just myself and another student who thankfully, thankfully, thankfully, has a similar work ethic to mine. Some of my peers chose larger groups with as many as four students, but since I have “been there, done that” over the past year with group projects, I was not interested in ever again taking a chance by putting my grade in the hands of several other people.

A few days before the paper’s due date, a fellow student called me to ask for advice. Her reaching out to seek peer counsel, was very much part of the strategies we learned in class and is, in fact, something I have used regularly within both my earlier professional life and personal life. I was pleased that she felt comfortable enough to ask for my help. It turns out, the student was dealing with an ethical dilemma within her writing group. This was of course ironic given that the paper was to be an academic template of how to handle another ethical dilemma, one assigned by the professor. She was up against a partner who refused to accept constructive criticism for typos, misspellings, citation errors, or any additions or deletions to her work on their google doc. This, although everyone will receive the same grade on the paper, a grade which will be based beyond content, on each of these things. She asked me what to do.

…As an aside, you really gotta love google docs, really you do. Each time I open one and work with another person simultaneously, I realize that I truly have lived two lives; one as a dinosaur with a typewriter in my undergraduate studies and the other today…

My suggestion to my peer was to make any truly necessary grammatical corrections on their google doc and to ask her group members to help her in letting the other student know that any corrections were by no means personal (I really thought she should say, “get the bleep over it beeeatch,” but that did not seem very ethical). Over the next two days, she reached out several times, because not only did she begin receiving hateful text messages from the group member attacking her character, her ethnicity and her very being, but none of the other group members were availing themselves to help. While wanting to be of service to my friend and to offer helpful suggestions, ethically I knew that I could not be in the middle while only communicating with one side of the challenge, so all I could think to suggest was that she contact the professor, apprise him of the very ironic ethical dilemma on her hands, and ask for his advice (I also told her to be sure to put her shoulders back and her chin up and make sure she kept breathing and stuff like that too though).

She was hesitant to contact the professor, expressing that she did not want to cause any trouble for any of her group members, and finally, because the paper was due, she allowed it to be handed in. Later, she contacted me to let me know that after the deadline, she did in fact, reach out to the professor and received response that there would be communication between him and the entire group. She also said that she was now willing to share what she had experienced. It turns out, the other girl had reached out to the professor as well, so I can only hope that there will be a resolution that is the most right for all concerned.

As for our final paper, my partner and I worked well together for several weeks. We researched, read articles and books, and spoke to political organizations as we garnered data from dozens of citation sources. We edited, re-edited and re-re-edited, so much so that when we handed in our work on the due date, we knew without a doubt that it was an “A” paper; in fact, we were absolutely certain. However, when I woke up this morning, logged on, and saw our posted grade, it was an “A minus.“ My first thought was to be “Ticked off.” This thought was followed by a second thought which was to be VERY “TICKED OFF,” but thankfully, both of these thoughts were quickly followed by a third thought which was a very gentle, loving one. It was the thought of gratitude for the experience, because as much as I really, really hate the minus at the end of that “A,” I feel blessed. The gratitude stemmed from the realization that I could neither put a grade nor a price tag on what I learned outside the classroom, as I tried to help my fellow student with her emotional paper challenge. It stemmed as well from the understanding that, as far as I am concerned, our grade, my partner and mine, is an A+++ for the way we collaborated, learned from one another and kept an open mind as we sought solution. Perhaps, at the end of the day this is all that matters.

What I have realized this year, after waiting with bated breath through more than a dozen classes and two internships for please dear God, please an “A,” is that at the end of the day it is NOT about the “A,” but about what we learn and about what we are willing to take with us out into the world. In my case, within my practice, this will be a fabulously intense desire to be of service and to honor willingness, both my own and that of others.

 

 

A weary graduate student in today’s classrooms…

I am a student – Let me learn 

Let me try – Let me taste 

Let me save – and not waste 

Let me ask – for to tell 

And not buy into hell

- - - 

As a student – Let me soar

Let past whimpers – yield a roar 

Let both eyes see no blame

And both ears hear no shame

- - -

As my teacher – Help me learn

Help me love – never hate

Seek to inspire – Not berate 

Help me absorb what is right

Not buy in to the fight  

- - - 

As a student – let me be still 

Let my mind block until…

Let my pen stop the rage

Let my heart fill the page

Paterfamilias

photo

We went to a family wedding yesterday and during the reception it hit me that we, my brothers, sister, cousins and I, are now the matriarchs and patriarchs of our family. There is no longer a table where the older generation holds court; there were no place settings for our moms, dads, aunts and uncles, because they are all in heaven now. We, those that used to be the middle generation (wasn’t it just yesterday?), are now the family elders. As such, we have a responsibility to pass along to our sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins and grandchildren, all the stories and love that we received from those who are gone.

Yesterday, watching one of the “kids” get married and move forward into his future caused a tug at my heart. There were other tugs as I listened during the reception about the castles young guests are building in the air, as businessmen and women; tugs because I remembered the ones of sand that cousins built on the beach together some years back. It is clear those expressing their young successes have no idea of the many personal lessons which likely lie ahead of them; nor should they. They are unaware of the experiences that will change them, the lessons they won’t want but will certainly need, as they maneuver their way through to the next level of placement within their own families. They do not yet know that they will do this maneuvering by sometimes coming together and sometimes pulling away, hopefully more often the former. And one day, likely well into the future, these children who are no longer children will look back and realize that at the times in their lives they thought they were sure, they in fact knew so little.

It can almost seem that once you realize what life is all about, it is too late; too late to tell everyone how much you always cared; so, you want to go back and grab hold of all the times you didn’t know … and make them right. You want to be sure the important people know that you would have been more open and less defensive, more secure and less frightened. You would have given more generously from your heart, no matter how much was or was not in your wallet, and you would have been around more often to love big, so very, very big.

When the pastor spoke of all who were missing at the wedding yesterday, his words touched a tender place; more tender still as the bride and groom opened a box to release several butterflies in their honor. It was a profound moment for us patriarchs and matriarchs, but one that very likely went over the heads of the millennial’s in attendance, because they still have two generational shifts to go before they are paterfamilias.

I thought of Aunt Pat, Uncle Tommy, Mom, Dad, KK and Pop, of Uncle Ed, Aunt Marion and so many others who were part of our Sunday reunion ukulele sing-alongs. As I did, I had to catch my heart before it wandered too far. I had to catch it and bring it back to the wedding service and the two souls before me, souls very much alive and committing to their sacred contract. I took a moment to pray a silent prayer for them and to ask God to make their lessons a bit less painful than the elders and mine have been. And then I clapped with joy as groom kissed bride.

And in a most fitting way, today, the day after this revelation, happens to be Mother’s Day. No matter whether you believe in celebrating this assigned meaning day or not, after a long hiatus of graduate school papers getting in the way, I am again compelled to write on this date. I take a formal moment to consider and honor family both here and gone, those who truly matter to my heart. It gives me great comfort to do so, because I know that this would please them, especially mom.

Typing these words helps me honor her and to honor my baby sister who did not make the wedding, and who today both celebrates her daughters and grieves the boy taken too young. It seems so often that life asks you to do both simultaneously; to grieve and be joyful. I also honor the great joy my family holds for me today and all the hopes and dreams I have for everyone who makes up that family. There are such possibilities ahead for all of us. Thank you to the generations who helped pave the way for all of us.

LIFE’s TERMS and WTF?

Life is good, most of the time, damn good in fact. Sometimes however, things happen that call that goodness into question; things that make me almost forget that the sun is sure to shine bright again; that it will come back in time with all of its glory, not just for me, but those I love and care for.

Over the past six months, our family has experienced steady doses of irony. Joy and sorrow arrived so disproportionately that polarity was actually tangible. At times, exhilaration and excruciation jumbled together so rapidly there was no time to truly feel or process any of it.

As this year began, we were beyond excited; we would welcome not one, but two daughter-in-laws; A nephew’s marriage out west would be coupled with a siblings trek through Olympia Forest; there were travel plans up north and to California; I would begin graduate school and best of all, our extended family would be together more than once.

It is now October (dear blog I have missed you) and yes, all of these things took place. The weddings in particular were each spectacular in their own right. They were beautiful, blessed and sacred events. Thankfully, in my heart my memories of both are intact and will always be. They are stored away as perfect days and for that, I am truly grateful.

Yet, through all of these events, the amount and level of emotional tugs went so far past my ability to comprehend that in retrospect I can only stand awestruck at the grace of the grooms and their brides throughout. At times, the challenges and grief that life presented to our children and our extended family was so excruciating, there was nothing to do but choose joy and light in the midst.

A bridesmaid died tragically and a fluke accident left an uncle on life support until his passing on wedding’s eve. Another bridesmaid caused a different kind of grief and concern; a guest’s TSA challenge put a damper on things; an elderly relative was rushed to the ER…and on and on it went. I remember trying to carry all of it like a load on my back, not for me but for the kids; I wanted their sacramental days to be perfect and tried to stand ready to take on whatever necessary to shield them. I have come to realize that perfect is relative, not absolute and that the people I love are incredibly resilient.

For months, the challenges kept wanting to pile up, but with faith as a guide all of us, everyone in this amazing extended family absolutely refused to let them overstep bounds to the brides or grooms happiness. Yes, we honored every sad and difficult moment as they came, but we then chose to shelve what could be, while keeping at hand the rest so as to push forward to celebrate and honor two very special couples and all the family members who showed up for them.

Family wedding planning is stressful under the best of circumstances; two in one year makes for double the stress. There are scads of decisions and logistics needing ironing out, budgets to determine, family dynamics stuff and perhaps a tad too much control from one direction whilst not enough from another. On top of these things, the multiple life stressors coming down the pike could have yielded quite different results, because at times there was no way to know exactly what to feel; this even in the midst of feeling excited and happy.

Grief stung like a bee time and again, though each time the only choice was to bravely pull out the stingers and dismiss the pain in order to process what kept inevitably coming around the bend. What keeps coming to mind is, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”

As everything unfolded, and as real and justified tears interspersed with elation, the weddings were spectacular. Of course, a multitude of family photos hit Facebook walls and Snapchat and in unison and connection, relatives sighed with gratitude that the Joy we chose through both instances won out over any grief and the special days were just that – very, very special.

And then, after some weeks, just when we were sure we could now breathe easily, when we just knew that any family stress had to be behind us and we all, along with the newlyweds were headed back on track to happily ever after, another life thing happened.

In the midst of planning travel for the third family wedding this year, my nephew’s out west, something happened making the trip, the plans, and the world stand still. Another nephew, a beloved young man who had recently rocked the dance floor and smiled big in family photos was gone; he died ever so senselessly. So totally were we caught off guard by this loss, that the only choice we had, my family and I, was to brace for this new crash and hope that we could somehow help our little sister put the pieces back together later.

Once again, this year, in the midst of planning for something wonderful, there appeared a very dark shadow. Once again, we would eventually push through to the best of our abilities, because we would, we knew deep in our hearts, actually have no choice. We also know now however, now that the funeral services are over, that we are different on the other side. Life will never be the same, especially for my baby sister and her girls.

The first time I read the words, “Life is difficult,” I thought they were ridiculous; “there was no need to think that way now was there?” Now, I know differently. Sometimes life is hard, very hard and I am not sure whether knowing this is half the battle or not. However, it hit me this year that knowing it is a necessary part of surviving.

An old mentor, Mary Mac, once told me, “in order to be happy you have to accept ’life on life’s terms.’” I had not a clue what “terms” were when she said it, and had no idea what she was talking about, but today I know exactly what she meant. Over many years, terms have presented themselves in the form of challenges and joys as birthdays have come and gone by the wayside. The only thing to do through all of them has been to find a level of acceptance and although it has not always been easy, it has been the only way.

The acceptance part must inevitably find its way; it will, once we decide it must. Sometimes it only comes after true struggle and amidst shattering heartache, but it comes. It comes with a willingness to remember that life is not happening TO me or TO anyone else I love and care about, even though it sometimes feels that way. Instead, life forms as a direct result of what we do with what happens, whatever happens. This is not a simple statement, particularly after a year like this last one for our family. Sometimes life’s events pile so that it seems there is a personal attack from the universe going on; comfort or anything resembling it seems impossible. The key I have learned is even at these times, to seek acceptance and to push through with everything you have to get to it.

This, because it turns out that Life is just that, life, and no matter what, it will go on; it will continue no matter what. It’s not a simple science; even with a substantial amount of spiritual tools amassed, I can still shake to my core when working to accept what feels unacceptable, particularly things dramatically affecting those I love, but I have learned that even then, even amidst the trembles, I have no choice.

This most recent loss, my nephew’s death, was so very painful and utterly senseless and now that some weeks have past and life is trying to get caught up to life, I can only pray that our family, my sister in particular, will find some true peace in our hearts and at least some tiny measure of acceptance as a beginning.

I will never understand the why’s of these last few months and frankly, I don’t have energy left even to try, but within every 24 hour every period, with every walk towards the light there seemed to be something else behind a solution, some challenge behind a joy. Some next circumstance came up so fast that processing any of it felt almost, yet not quite, impossible. Even though the horizon line almost got lost, there it always was again, in the form of a fresh new day.

No, I may never be able to fully process this year. I might not be able beyond that to figure out why, even now, even after all these months of stress mixed with joy mixed with turmoil mixed with awe, why my current “life on life’s terms,” things going on yesterday and today, are carrying yet new challenges to my family in the form of medical issues and injury. However, I will remember to keep these current small things just that, small. The Grace comes in the perspective that compared to what they could be, compared to what they might be, compared to what they have been, these new things are absolutely, positively, no problema.

Although in the midst of our day to days challenges, it is sometimes hard to see, the light is always there behind the shadows, waiting, waiting, waiting to shine. I hope it will shine bright on my family. I hope it beams down on my sister and her girls very, very soon and when it does, I hope they will be able to recognize it. I pray that they, we, will remember always, even after forgetting, to reach up and out to the source of All good things, the One shining that light for us to find.

No, I may never understand many of the “terms” of this past year, but even though I will likely not understand, I still must accept. I must accept and then move out and beyond the explanations, remembering that we will not always know why … but always, always, we are meant to remember How. We are meant to keep looking for the light. We simply have to.

Relationships and Decisions and Choices

Over the last few days, it seems the theme around me has been relationships. Within conversation, one friend was processing some sadness about her former partner while another, her present one. Both turned to me for advice:  “How do you know when the person you are with is the right one for you?” “How do you know when he’s wrong and the time has come to move on?“How do you stand the feelings while you figure it all out?”

First, let me say that I am by no means an expert on relationships! However, because my peeps and I seek one another out for solution, I was compelled to give the best answer I could in both situations, “It’s not that simple. What I have learned from experience is that you know simply because you decide to and then you work within and towards that decision every day.”

 

My friends’ questions provoked powerful emotions within me, mostly ones of gratitude but also of sorrow and regret. They prompted a hope that once they make their choice they will know that whatever unfolds from that point on, will be right and true and good because that is who they are inside and because they will decide to work at making it so.

All my life, I stood in terror of making decisions. I was afraid to go right and find out later that left had been the way for me. Because of this, I lived always positioned for a move, ready to turn, as if waiting for a tennis shot; poised for either a forehand or back, but never too firmly planted on my feet; just ready, always ready. With this type of stance, it was difficult for any relationship to seed, take root, grow strong and flourish. The garden that was my life was one filled with annuals, never perennials, and I could not understand why flowers were not re-blooming year after year. Instead of planting new ones, knowing that the former’s gift had come and gone, I thought I must have picked the wrong patch of earth. Sure, I watered sometimes, but there was so much more critical work required. There were weeds to pull, soil to turn over and fertilizer to spread. Because I thought once I planted, pretty colors would be forevermore, when things went bare and brown I panicked. I did not understand.

Today, I can only wonder at how it was I believed I should always know, know Who and What and Where and When. How I thought I should be sure and certain in whatever I picked or chose. I wonder how it was that I so naively thought we all were supposed to find our custom designs out there, so easily, so surely. Did I think there were memos to help or sky-written messages from above to guide the way? Did I remain so afraid in my decisions, because I never got those memos, those messages? Was it because I felt abandoned somewhere, by what or whom I am not sure, but forgotten and left to pick my way through life on my own? It is laughable today, but laughable in the most gentle sort of way, to think about how terrified I was of getting it all wrong; the big IT of life; the guy I should be with, the career path to travel, the neighborhood to live in and the bestie to trust.

This morning, I have decided to smile with gentle kindness at all of it, appreciate the similarities between all of us fellow travelers and pass along what I have learned. I have opted to use the feelings stirred up from relationship conversations this week and remember to reach upward towards the blessed prayer of St. Francis of Assisi and its words that will guide me for the future. I choose today to head in the direction before me and to believe that help will come as I go, not in memo form, but in daily dialogue with God and His Angels.

Right here, right now, I choose to be one of the brave and decisive ones as I step out, one of the courageous ones, one unafraid to choose left with both feet on the ground or go right with everything I have inside of me. I commit to a willingness to make today’s choices gracefully and while doing so, believe that whatever they are will be good and true; because no matter what unfolds, the gifts will come in the lessons therein.

The most important choice I will make today will be once again to believe with all my heart, with absolute certainty that there is no right way and no wrong, but ever so perfectly, there is simply the way I will choose.

Don’t Explain, Don’t Complain

Almost two decades ago, my first spiritual mentor came into my life. A beautiful soul, she crossed my path suddenly and very coincidentally. In retrospect, I am sure our meeting was God’s handiwork, because it happened soon after I began seeking Grace.

At the onset of my quest, although I could almost taste what I sought, I did not yet fully understand what Grace even meant. As it turns out, it is so much more than I had thought. Yes, it is a relationship with God, as I believed it was; salvation even. Beyond that, it is all that you are; it is personal freedom, strength in vulnerability and the capacity to stand true and unwavering as your very best self at a given time. It is also “all that you simply cannot manage to be, even though you might like to, at a said given time.” Some might express the last sentence as “all that you are not,” but I prefer my own understanding.

One of the first things I remember discussing with this spiritual guide was that, “Ideally we want to get to a place in our lives where we don’t feel a need either to Explain or Complain.” The “Not having to explain” part, because if we stay true to trying to do the next right thing in our lives, we won’t have to prove anything to anyone. The “not complaining,” because doing so will just keep us stuck in our ego and that, as I have learned through very painful life lessons, will simply never do.

Whilst traveling a route towards God’s favor, I have done my best to honor many along the way with friendship. In learning to do so, as often as I have been able to remember, I’ve used this “Don’t Explain, Don’t Complain” mantra and it has been priceless. In the midst, I have received precious gifts of time and loving kindness and have offered the same in return. However, it is at times impossible to fulfill the needs of others or even to communicate fully why we are unable to. Work stuff takes a little longer than usual or the car has to go into the shop. The cat gets out or a neighbor distracts with a request to borrow sugar. Someone asks for help, or my husband wants to spend time; a writing deadline looms or a migraine hits.

When these things happen, these tugs, these ways that take me away from what I might really want to be doing in order to do what needs to be done, life can start to feel awfully lifey. Through it all though, I still need never explain nor complain. What I must do, is simply that which is immediately pressing in front of me in the very best way I can.

When living in this simple “Don’t complain, don’t explain” mantra, life has the potential to be grand. No, it’s not as simple as it sounds, not exactly, but it really does work as long as it’s basis is on trusting those you have relationships with to know who you are at your core; to know that you would never intentionally hurt them with what they perceive as your wrong.

When I find myself tempted to give a lengthy dissertation of why I didn’t or couldn’t or can’t, I have to stop and remind myself that getting fearfully embroiled in having to explain what is sometimes unexplainable is unnecessary, especially if my connection to God is intact. Those sometimes pulls, the yanks towards the need to be absolutely certain that others understand the why’s and what’s of my decisions can be let go if I remember that those why’s and what’s don’t really matter as long as God and I know the reasons.

In the big picture of life, what others think about my actions or inactions need have no bearing on my reality. Just as others have no idea what fully goes on in my total day to day, I have no idea what goes on in theirs. There are so many tugs, twists and turns in one twenty-four hour period that to try to be all that we desire to or to explain every situation encountered is a daunting and sometimes seemingly impossible task.

And so, as that long ago mentor also told me, I must trust that when I ask God each morning to guide me to His will, that what he puts in front of me is right and true, even when it changes or deviates from what I had planned. I can be firm in my choices, including re-choosing, even when those choices feel slightly uncomfortable, and do my very best to remember that He alone can judge; though he never even will, because He loves me so. How cool is that!